OCEAN CITY — Two anglers caught Maryland state record groupers off the coast of Ocean City late last month within a week of each other and from the same boat.
On July 22, Robert Purcell of Bishopville caught a 56-pound snowy grouper while fishing in the Norfolk Canyon about 75 miles off the coast of Ocean City. Purcell’s grouper, caught while fishing with Captain Richard Benn, was quickly heralded as the new state record for the species.
“The first 15 minutes were the toughest,” Purcell said afterward. “The fish kept diving into a hole to get away.”
However, Purcell’s spot in the state record book for grouper was short-lived as his friend and co-angler Gregory Benn, 14, of Great Falls, Va., topped the feat a little more than a week later on July 30. Gregory Benn was fishing in roughly the same area with his father, Richard Benn when he landed a 66-pound snowy grouper, topping the record set by his friend Purcell just eight days earlier.
“The fish took Gregory almost to the rail at the strike,” said Richard Benn, incidentally the 1999 White Marlin Open winner. “At one point, I thought the rod might break with the drag on so hard to pull the fish out of the rocks.”
Gregory Benn fought the big grouper for more than half an hour before the fish came to the surface. Mate Robert Belcher gaffed the big grouper and hauled it over the rail. Once on board, the fish measured more than 47 inches in length with a girth of 38 inches. The fish was brought to shore and was weighed and certified at Sunset Marina by Maryland DNR fisheries service biologist Steve Doctor to be the new state record for grouper.
For Gregory Benn, the new state record fish was not his first encounter with a huge grouper this summer. Back on July 1, he reeled in a 50-pounder in the same area. Once back at the marina, however, the crew learned there was no existing state record for the species, but the 50-pounder could not be accepted because it had already been cleaned, cut up and packed away before it was certified.
The current all-tackle world record for the species is a 70-pound, seven-ounce grouper caught by angler Roger Burnley of Virginia Beach in the Norfolk Canyon in 2011